Buoyed by opening day wins, Group A leaders New Caledonia and hosts Vanuatu have the chance to seal semi-final places at the 2016 OFC U-20 Championship in Port Vila on Tuesday.
New Caledonia topped the pool by defeating Papua New Guinea 4-1, while Vanuatu edged defending champions Fiji 1-0 in the other match on Saturday and should they both win again against Fiji and Papua New Guinea respectively they would wrap up the top two places with a game to spare.
Confirming a place in the final four of the eight nation is a step closer to qualifying for next year’s FIFA U-20 World Cup, which for the first time welcomes two teams from the OFC qualifying tournament, specifically the winners of each semi-final.
New Caledonia were down a goal at halftime in their opener and so coach Kemali Fitealeata has been focussing on replicating their second half performance from the first whistle against Fiji.
“The first game I thought the players were stressed and were feeling the pressure. For some players it was their first international game. But now we are ready to play like we did in the second half throughout the rest of the tournament,” said Fitealeata.
“We were very happy to win our first match and we have to win the second game and qualify for the semi-finals.”
Meanwhile, the Vanuatu camp are not entertaining thoughts of qualification for the semi-finals, let alone greater targets, ahead of their clash against Papua New Guinea.
Coach Ettienne Mermer prefers to keep his players focussed on the individual tasks at hand as they prepare for Papua New Guinea.
“As coaches we try to make players just focus on day by day. We don’t want to focus on the aim to qualify for Korea because it’s too far. We just want them to think about each day and exactly what they have to do on that day to prepare. A step-by-step approach is best for us.
They take on a Fiji side still determined to reach a second straight FIFA U-20 World Cup but facing an uphill battle needing at least a point against the leaders to keep those hopes alive.
“We have worked hard in training on what we lacked in last game,” said Fijian coach Yogendra Dutt.
“We will go out and do our best against New Caledonia. We know they are pool leaders and they won by a big margin but soccer is a game where anything can happen.”
The task is arguably even tougher for Papua New Guinea who have the host nation and a boisterous Port Vila crowd standing between them and the chance to get their campaign back on track.
Coach Peter Dabinyaba is taking confidence from their first half effort against New Caledonia and calling for greater concentration from his players to convert a winning position into three points if they get the opportunity.
“Perhaps in the first half the players were too confident and thought the game was won,” said Dabinyaba, “in the second half they were caught by surprise and when New Caledonia scored two they thought the game was over.
“But this is international football and we have to play for 90 minutes. If we score we have to maintain our intensity and keep the pressure on.”
New Caledonia’s match against Fiji kicks off at noon (local time) with Papua New Guinea facing the hosts in the 3pm kickoff.
Over on the island of Santo, Group B action sees Cook Islands face Solomon Islands while Tahiti meet group leaders New Zealand.
New Caledonia vs. Fiji
Port Vila Stadium
Port Vila, Vanuatu
Tuesday 6 September
Kick-off: 12h00 VUT
Referee: George TIME (SOL)
Assistant Referee 1: Folio MOEAKI (TGA)
Assistant Referee 2: Sione TEU (TGA)
Fourth Official: Nelson SOGO (SOL)
Vital Statistics: New Caledonia record against Fiji makes for frustrating reading for fans with seven defeats and just one win in eight matches played. Five of those seven losses have been by a one goal margin.
The Players: Captain Pothin Poma was never far from the action in Saturday’s opening match. He scored a wonderful kick at one end but the defender also caused some heart-in-mouth moments at the other with his willingness to attempt creative ways of beating opposition attackers when they pressed.
Coach Quote: “We are here to represent our country well,. We’re aiming to win, to qualify, and represent New Caledonia well.”
New Caledonia: 1. Mickaël ULILE (GK), 2. Gaëtan GOPE-IWATE, 3. Jean-Marc KAUDRE, 4. Brice KAI, 5. Pothin POMA, 6. Wapö ELE-HMAEA, 7. Bryan AUSU, 8. Shene WELEPANE, 9. Albert WATRONE, 10. Thomas GOPE-FENEPEJ, 11. Patrick GOHE, 12. Wéda WAITREU, 13. Warren HOUALA, 14. Romarick LUEPAK, 15. Henri BOUCHERON, 16. Lucas BITAUD, 17. Johanes BERNOLE, 18.Renzo WEJIEME, 19. Cyril NYPIE, 20. Nathanaël HLEMU (GK)
Coach: Kamali FITEALEATA (NCL)
Vital Statistics: Saturday’s defeat to Vanuatu broke a six match unbeaten streak at the OFC U-20 Championship stretching back to 2013.
The Players: Australian-born, Wales-based striker Leroy Jennings will hope to find more freedom than he did against Vanuatu. Many of Fiji’s best chances, in open play fell to Jenings but he was well marshalled by Vanuatu’s back four.
Coach Quote: “We will try our best to do well. It all depends on the day. Sometimes it’s positive sometimes what you think is right can turn negative and you have to change. We will plan and play to the best of our ability.
Fiji: 1. Jovilisi BORISI (GK), 2. Savenaca BALEDROKADROKA, 3. Suliano TAWANAKORO, 4. Bruce HUGHES, 5. Vinal PRASAD, 6. Akeimi RALULU, 7. Mataiasi TOMA, 8. Afraz ALI, 9. Leroy JENNINGS, 10. Jeshal KUMAR, 11. Don RAJ, 12. Patrick JOSEPH, 13. Kartik KUMAR, 14. Simeli BATIRATU, 15. Ilaisa VULIMAINAVUSO, 16. Marika RAWASOI, 17. France CATAROGO, 18. Jonetani NEWA, 19. Zainal ALI, 20. Zoela BIUNAVUA (GK)
Coach: Yogendra DUTT (FIJ)
Vanuatu vs. Papua New Guinea
Port Vila Stadium
Port Vila, Vanuatu
Tuesday 6 September
Kick-off: 15h00 VUT
Referee: Robinson Campbell-Kirk WAUGH (NZL)
Assistant Referee 1: John PAREANGA (COK)
Assistant Referee 2: Glen LOCKRIE (NZL)
Fourth Official: Kader ZITOUNI (TAH)
Vital Statistics: Vanuatu are on an 8 match unbeaten streak in the OFC U-20 Championship stretching back to a 1-0 defeat to New Zealand in the 2013 edition. They went through the 2014 edition undefeated but two draws eventually cost them a place at the 2015 FIFA U-20 World Cup in New Zealand.
The Players: Godine Tenene’s match-winning goal was fitting reward for his industry in the centre of midfield for the host nation.
Coach Quote: “After we scored a goal. The crowd was excited and willing us to win. All the players know we have to give something positive for the home fans.”
Vanuatu: 1. Andreas DUCH (GK), 2. Joseph IARUEL, 3. Jason THOMAS, 4. Selwyn VATU, 5. Jesse KALOPONG, 6. Claude ARU, 7. Bong KALO, 8. Godine TENENE, 9. Sylvain WORWORBU, 10. Ronaldo WILKINS, 11. Jonathan SPOKEYJACK, 12. Abednigo SAU, 13. Tasso JEFFERY, 14. Timothy BOULET, 15. Gregory PATRICK, 16. Harison MASSING, 17. Jayson TIMATUA, 18. Max UGUNA, 19. Frederick MASSING, 23. Willie DICK (GK)
Coach: Etienne MERMER (VAN)
Papua New Guinea
Vital Statistics: Papua New Guinea have not fared well against Vanuatu historically at this level. The have lost five straight matches against them at the OFC U-20 Championship, conceding 24 goals in the process.
The Players: Giwi Simon gave Papua New Guinea’s take plenty of guile and impetus. His pressing led to the turnover for Papua New Guinea’s goal and he constantly threatened to get in behind the New Caledonian defence on Saturday.
Coach Quote: “The home side with the crowd behind them and the type of football they play is a very difficult task but we are trying to work out ways to counter them and will do our very best.
Papua New Guinea: 1. Jonathan POLE (GK), 2. Kenneth PILAILO, 3. Darius JAMES, 4. Edward JOSHUA, 5. Gabby YANUM, 6. Peter DABINYABA, 7. Moses TUPA, 8. Gregory TOGUBAI, 9. Stahl GUBAG, 10. Jonah IHA, 11. Giwi SIMON, 12. George KOREI, 13. Alu AWI, 14. Jaggen NALU, 15. Oswald BADE, 16. Punchimil KEPINIU, 17. Winston SOMASI, 18. Felix KOMOLONG, 19. Edward LAKAE (GK)
Coach: Peter GUNEMBA (PNG)